Xenophobia and racism are irrational attitudes stemming from a conception of creating a difference between us and the other.
In their approach, they rely on a worldview informed by stereotypes. Xenophobia, more specifically, is based on the dislike and distrust of foreigners. Therefore, having formed a set of preconceived ideas and opinions about the foreigners, we can act in a prejudicial manner towards them. Racism, on the other hand, derives from the notion that a particular group of people is superior to another. If the other is inferior, they are incapable of performing or expressing themselves in a way that qualifies them as people, and can be discriminated against. Fundamentally, though, both xenophobia and racism are motivated by fear and a misconception of belonging.
South Africa is a multi-class, multi-cultural society with people from a multitude of origins. The majority is indigenous to the geographic space we occupy, whereas others came as colonists, slaves, labourers, refugees fleeing from persecution, etc.
In 199O, we made a decision to end strife in our country. The ANC chose to end the armed struggle and negotiate with our enemies with the aim of creating a nation; a people diverse in their languages, cultural expressions and racial appearance. We decided that our nascent nation would become a beacon of hope to a world in which racism still exists. We decided that we want a non-racial, non-sexist, united and democratic country. We jointly drafted a Constitution, which laid out the minimum standards by which we would build our nation. Human rights, the value of human life and the need for a humane and tolerant society, given our diversity, were thought of as the ethos of this nation. We cannot and must not lose sight of this as we move forward.
We acknowledge the negative impact of patriarchy on the lives of women. We must remain determined to ensure that the emancipation of women goes beyond representation but enables women to live as equal citizens, irrespective of the cultural or traditional norms that their respective origins impose on them. We must challenge the tradition and cultural norms that are harmful to the development of any person or community as not representing the ethos of human rights we fought for.
So too, as South Africans the fear of other Africans and the deliberate mismanagement of their rights as human beings is wrong. A refugee is a person who, owing to a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, lives outside their country of birth. They are unable or unwilling to return their country owing to this fear. Each country has systems by which she accords refugees status to such vulnerable individuals. It is expected of the refugee, having sought asylum in a foreign country, to apply in order to be granted such status.
The laws governing our country enable this process upon application. Although it often takes time, as it does in most countries, South Africa has been home to refugees from Mozambique, Burundi, the DRC, Somalia and other African countries where there was or is conflict. When our own war was ongoing we were given refugee status in Angola, Botswana, Egypt, Libya, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Mozambique and many other African; as well as in European and Asian countries.
The South Africans, who lived in exile, were subjected to the rule of law of the country they were accepted in. Those who were able to work did so in terms of the work permits granted to refugees in those countries. In most instances, refugees were confined to specific areas where they lived. Our decision as a nation, however, was to integrate refugees into communities so that they live as normal a life as is possible.
Apartheid packaged us into language specific areas, and in most communities a South African who came from another part of the country was negatively referred to as a “kom ver” or “inkommer”. South Africans who have chosen to settle in the Western Cape have been described as refugees. We also still use negative terms such as the kaffir, koelie and boesman when we describe each other, based on racial identification. The older generation, who experienced the worst form of indoctrination under apartheid, continues to behave in this manner. We need to assert the right of all South Africans to live wherever they choose or please.
When Hitler began his murderous tirade and genocide of people of the Jewish faith, he attacked their presence in the economic arena first, and used that to build momentum against people who were German by birth. The Khoi genocide in the Western Cape was another murderous act that not been properly documented and remains vague in our historical annals. That genocide was based on the obliteration of a group of people by the colonizers. These events illustrate the deep-rootedness anger and prejudice in our history.
It is critical that we take stock of what brought us to where we are and why we must avoid taking the road backwards, which further engenders racial prejudice or Afrophobia. It is equally important that foreign nationals living in South Africa should respect the rules that govern our country.
The complaints about foreign national taking over local economic activity are disconcerting. The situation is far more complex. South Africans sometimes sell their businesses to foreign nationals because nationals are not prepared to put up the purchase price. In other instances, South Africans rent out their shops to foreign nationals because they make more income from the rent than they do as shopkeepers. There are also allegations that some South African shop owners are behind the attacks on foreign nationals who run spaza shops in our townships.
As we advocate for the respect and protection of foreign nationals, we should also emphasise that foreign nationals should recognise that to be protected by the law they must first obey it. A business license imposes obligations of paying tax, collecting VAT on items sold and registration of a business. Illegal activity, as alleged, such as running a brothel or selling drugs from a business premises is criminal whether it is a citizen of South Africa doing this or a foreign national doing so. Enticing young school girls into prostitution reduces their lives to sex slavery and is wrong, whoever does it.
South Africans who are unemployed find it difficult to accept that they are less qualified to be employed in sectors such as the security, agricultural domestic work sectors of our economy. We must condemn the notion that a refugee can be exploited and that refugees and asylum seekers are condemned to being cheap labour. The reality is that many employers deliberately do not employ South Africans because they disrespect our labour laws. This is a problem we must mobilise on. The rights of all workers must be protected and unemployed South Africans must be given consideration for work opportunities before any other person may be considered. Charity must begin at home.
The ANC condemns xenophobia. Equally, we condemn non compliance with the rule of law. We expect the police to protect every human life. We also expect the police to act against illegal activity of any kind.
We do not live on an island, but are part of the continent of Africa. As our countries continue to develop we must expect that people will migrate throughout the continent. Let us form street committees and zonal committees and exert our influence on all who live in our communities, and work together to condemn all actions that divert us from our goals.
The demon of racialism, tribalism and xenophobia must be obliterated from our collective progressive consciousness.
Comrade Jessie Duarte is the Deputy Secretary General of the ANC